Our society is fairly young in its abandonment of spiritual journeys and rites of passage. What once would have been the territory of the sacred has become the territory of the psychologist.
We’ve tried to sterilize, medicalize, and materialize human existence after centuries (or millenniums) of spirituality. We’ve buried our guides, forsaken our ceremonies, and detached ourselves from our process in exchange for diagnoses and medications.
Carl Jung believed that myth was
the primordial language natural to these psychic processes, and no intellectual formulation comes anywhere near the richness and expressiveness of mythical imagery.
In other words, the psyche speaks in myth, and science and psychology alone cannot begin to even touch the depth that mythology reaches for the soul.
I once thought that reclaiming my spiritual life was something I had to do for my healing because of my history within a cult, where so much of my abuse has been at the hands of religion; however, I don’t think I believe that anymore.
At an herbal conference a couple weeks ago, I attended a class about sacred herbs in spirituality. The teacher started the class by talking about tobacco and its use in various Native American spiritualties as a purifying herb. I was struck when she mused about the high rate of cigarette addiction in the United States, wondering whether it indicated that people were seeking a cleansing without realizing it.
The comment stuck out to me not because it was a light-bulb comment on its own, but because it came on the heels of several similar thoughts I’ve encountered in a wide variety of settings.
At another conference I attended, the speaker (Ron Coleman) was talking about how mental health crises sometimes resemble spiritual awakenings. In this instance, he was talking about the experience of hearing voices, which in mainstream society is seen as a sure sign of psychosis but which has often been a signal of spiritual encounters in other cultures.
By every indication, he himself was atheist, yet he was arguing against labeling spiritual experiences as mental illness…
Few in today’s society would try to argue that exorcisms, witch hunts, and tortures that developed in response to unacceptable experiences were good; however, what options do we, as a society, offer people for their modern “unacceptable” experiences? Illness labels and medicinally exorcising fictional demons?
On some levels, I think we might offer even fewer opportunities for people to confront their experiences and find a way to work through them to a positive end, perhaps not because we think they are demonic, but because we can’t handle the discomfort of not being able to control their process.
Maybe we’re not meant to.
Ron Coleman described the “proper” role of psychotherapists as midwives of the soul. It’s a radical perspective, but not a new one. Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and so many others have proposed many times over that the psyche doesn’t necessarily need fixing. It needs to find itself again. It needs to take its mythic journey, delve into its spiritual encounters…go into the dark cave.
Perhaps it’s time to start paying attention to the soul again. Perhaps the mind and soul aren’t so different. Perhaps healing “mental illness” isn’t about finding the mental equivalent to antibiotics and surgery. Maybe it’s about finding the mental equivalent of: “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.”